The graffiti culture is undeniably a male dominated world. Many speak about graffiti as being a full-contact sport that can be brutal and daunting—definitely not the glamorized lifestyle that social media makes it out to be—but just because it’s predominately male doesn’t mean that there aren’t some female writers that can’t hold their own. Sprayplanet linked up with German artist SIGMA to discuss her history, how graffiti has impacted her life and hit some heavy questions about being a female writer in a male dominated culture. Graffiti as an entity doesn’t care about a writer’s ethnicity, where a person grew up or if a writer is male or female, but it allows people to choose to be a part of the culture in order to push himself or herself beyond certain boundaries that most traditional art forms can place on a creative. SIGMA has found her niche and is doing just that. Her style is clean, unique and holds its own in the ring. Read below to find out more…
SprayPlanet: Let’s begin with the very basics: What do you write, how did you come up with the name, and how long have you been writing? Where do you call home? What’s a normal day in the life of Sigma?
SIGMA: Since 2014 I write Sigma, mostly I modify my name into Sygma. I chose these letters, because of the variety of the letter structure. I started painting “real” graffiti in 2010/2011. At that time, I wrote a name that contained the letters K, R and B, which did not give me enough creative leeway for designing a good style or a style that would satisfy me. So after three years of painting walls I felt that I needed new letters and new options in creating a solid style. I wanted to develop myself and closed the first chapter in my graffiti life by starting the new one, the SYGMA chapter. My home is a medium-sized university town in the center of Germany, called Goettingen. I was born and raised here and I also started writing Graffiti in this town.
SprayPlanet: At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to paint graffiti? Did you have a certain moment that ignited that fire to use the spray can as a medium? Or was the direction to paint graffiti gradual and purposeful?
SIGMA: As a teenager I was influenced by the skateboarding scene, Punk Rock and Hip Hop music, especially because of my oldest brother. He had a lot of friends, who were wearing baggies, rapping and skateboarding. One day I found a graffiti sketch on his desk and I tried to – not to copy – but to use this sketch as an orientation and tried to draw my first-name. There were several moments like this in my life, which were connected to the graffiti culture, and I didn’t even knew, that one day I would be a graffiti writer. But when I was 18 years old (better late than never...), again I was confronted with the Graffiti scene. I started to identify more and more with Hip Hop music and sketching letters and characters on the back of my college block at school. I had a classmate that played the track “Linewand” by the German rapper Damion Davis from Berlin, which contained a lot of terms I did not know. This track is about graffiti. At that point, when I realized what the track was about, I wanted to be a graffiti writer. I started sketching every night and day, texted a lot to other writers on a graffiti forum and met my crew member Trek (IGMCrew) who was like a gate keeper to the graffiti scene.
SprayPlanet: Here’s a question that we ask most of our interviewees, how would you explain your style to a bystander if they asked? How do you come up with your styles (letters) and how do you manage your walls? In other words, what’s your process for painting a wall?
SIGMA: My style consists of solid, clear but funky letters that have to interact with each other by forming them in their entity. I try not to overload the style. I like clear outlines that are not interrupted by the outlines of unessential attachments. Sometimes I use sketches for painting a wall, but I also like to paint freestyle. I don’t figure too much out when I am painting a style. I take the colors and try to put them in good contrast. Sometimes I like classical fades when I do the fill in. I have to admit, that I am not that kind of writer, that paints every week a wall or a piece. But I noticed, that after a “graffiti pause” I feeling refreshed, put my skills on a new level and try out new thinks, feeling more self-confident in experimenting.
SprayPlanet: Who are some of your earlier influences? Was there anyone that took you under their wings and mentored you at first? Do you think having someone like that earlier on played a big influence in your artistic growth? Has western graffiti had any influence on your style? Can you explain to our readers, if that’s the case?
SIGMA: Dizoe (RCA, KDS, IGMC), originally from Karlsruhe/Germany, was a big influence. We came together in 2012 and painted reams of walls especially in Heidelberg and Karlsruhe. He taught me to invest time and work in every wall. He showed me, that every new wall has the capability for being better than the last wall, and that this is influenced by how much we invest in it and our skills. In general I can say, that everyone I was painting with had an influence on me. It is worth mentioning that especially the guys from RCA Crew and my KDS Crew (Reks, Wuam, Core and Dizoe), but also Trek, Twisk and McFly from Goettingen carried weight in my graffiti life. These people, that I used to paint with, had the most effect on me.
SprayPlanet: Speaking of walls, you have an amazing balance of being able to paint solid letters and detailed characters, can you explain the balance and how you keep it? There’s always an overwhelming ideal in the graffiti culture that letters come first and then characters, how did you start? What’s the drive to your painting characters? What’s your belief on the entire argument of letters versus characters? Being from Germany, do you think this concept is different in Europe? How would you explain or argue these ideas?
SIGMA: As I started graffiti I always wanted to write my name on the wall. I always had the feeling that I have to show the world, that I as a woman, am able to paint graffiti, too. This feeling had a huge effect on me, because I wanted to be the best evidence of a female graffiti writer. This is why in the beginning I focused myself on painting styles. Very quickly I noticed, that I am not satisfied with painting only styles. I wanted to integrate my letters in a background or a special theme and for that it is important to paint characters and other background elements. Graffiti does not know any borders. You can paint everything you can imagine. But I think, that styles are the main thing in the graffiti game. I know a lot of good character painters, but at the same time I think that it is not so easy to develop an own, individual character art, that has recognition value. If you want to be good in painting characters, you have to find your own style. The same with letters. I don’t think, that I have found “my” personal style of painting characters yet, but I think it’s easier to find your own style in lettering. Respective to other countries I am not able to answer, if this concept is different in Europe, because I have never been on another continent. But what I see is, that the French graffiti writers have an excellent style on painting characters and letters. They really impress me.
SprayPlanet: You live with two of your crewmates, how does that play into your style? What are the positives and negatives with being surrounded by so much influence? How do the dynamics work when you all paint walls? Do you ever paint by yourself or is it always a team effort?
SIGMA: For sure there are sometimes difficulties between Dizoe, Core and me when we paint a wall together. Each one has ideas or visions that one wants to realize on the wall. But when you paint with other people, you have to be flexible and communicate with your wall partners. Sometimes we say, Core is the art director from the KDS Crew. He is the one that is very creative and sometimes he “sacrifices” himself for painting the background and character stuff whereas Dizoe and I paint the styles. Today we are quite skilled in painting a wall together, which we enjoy and helps us grow. But then I often think, that I want to paint on myself and want to create a wall that is completely out of my mind. Unfortunately this does not occur very often. I think I have to change that...
SprayPlanet: Since we’re discussing influences and dynamics, let’s get into a more sensitive issue: The graffiti culture is predominately male, how does this play into your graffiti career? Do you feel as if being a woman in a male dominated culture places additional pressure on your art work? Does the extra pressure compel you to produce more work? Do you ever feel or find that you’re being placed to a different standard than male graffiti writers?
SIGMA: I was very quickly accepted by the writers in my hometown, primarily because of my skills (I hope so :D ) and not because of my gender. From day to day I got better and tried to implement what I was taught by my mentors. Reclaiming the past I have to admit that I painted a lot under pressure and wanted to show the male writers, that there is a girl painting good graffiti. A girl that is able to paint a solid style, with a clean outline, flowing letters and keeps up with the male writers. However I was many times not happy with my style. I saw the mistakes in the letter proportion and thought “how could I paint a shitty piece like that?!” This self-criticism was hard, but I was getting better all the time. I don’t think that this compelled me to paint more graffiti pieces, but to focus more on quality aspects. In fact there were some situations in my graffiti career that I felt being rated because of my gender. But I feel this very rarely. Mostly – or actually at all times when I paint with other writers – I am placed to the same standard. The styles I paint are not spared by the critique of other writers, which I see as constructive criticism that I appreciate.
SprayPlanet: While on the topic of female graffiti writers and the graffiti culture, what’s your opinion on female artists (not just graffiti) that use their femininity as a tool to sell their art? For instance, how do you feel about women who pose in barely anything next to a painting when posting on Instagram? Is there a line being crossed? There’s a lot of female painters and female writers that don’t pose in front of their work and allow the work to speak for itself, what are your thoughts on this? Adding to this, does the graffiti culture feed this type of behavior? If so, how do you think this effects the difference between quality work and bad graffiti? Do you think that female graffiti writers who are exploiting themselves to push their work are getting an un-equal amount of shine from female graffiti writers who produce high- quality work but choose to not exploit their bodies on social media?
SIGMA: This topic is quite complex. I have dealed with this in the past a lot and very often I asked myself “why do I paint graffiti, if I cannot convince the social media world of my graffiti skills? Why I don’t have thousands of followers, if a lot of people say that I am a good writer?” I had doubts on myself and on my skills. I think, that the graffiti world has a special position in this topic. You get famous by your skills or by the spots you painted. You get famous, because you want to be the best and because you want to bring your style to perfection. In the Social Media it is all disordered and the algorithm rules the graffiti culture. Anyway I think that it is a shame, that especially Instagram has this kind of influence on the graffiti culture. Toys (female and male) get fame, because they get likes and positive comments of people who don’t have any clue about graffiti. The consequence is that these toys have the attitude, that they are the kings because of their huge amount of followers and they go out and paint over writers that are vastly better – they have no respect. To be honest, I hate seeing half naked girls that are posing in front of their pieces or girls that are posing in front of their pieces in every second picture they are posting. They should invest way more time and work in pushing their graffiti skills and not in what to post next. Only then, there would be more good female graffiti writers. At the same time I would prefer more male writers would criticize and not support this kind of “female graffiti culture”.
SprayPlanet: In regards to the culture and female writers, can you suggest anything that might guide a female writer to switch directions from using her body as a way to boost her social media following and to focus on her art form? Do you think there are enough female mentors for female writers in the culture? Also, no final words or suggestions or little nuggets of truth you’d like to share?
SIGMA: That question is not so easy to answer. I guess that most of the people want to get more followers and in fact, you can get more followers on Instagram if you show your face or body. But you have to make yourself aware of who you want to be or how you want to be seen, especially in the graffiti culture. If you go out in ‘real life’ it could be more relevant, if you can paint graffiti or if you are an affable person whereas it could be irrelevant, if you have a million of followers. Polarized thinking is not possible, but I think, that if you focus on your art or on doing your graffiti, that means connecting to people, living the Hip Hop culture, sketching, or whatever, you will get more than the followers you have never seen. Graffiti is connected locally. Go out and find people in your area you can paint with. Try to build up a graffiti scene in your region. Have a good time together and focus on graffiti as an art form, whether writing on steel or creating unbelievably crazy concept walls. Look for some role models, there are so many good writers and they don’t need to be female just because you are a girl or woman. Learn to be self-confident and try to keep up with the boys. If they don’t accept you, ignore them and do your thing. One day you will find like-minded people. Don’t neglect to improve your skills, because this is why you will be honored in the graffiti culture.
SprayPlanet: Let’s change the pace a little bit, where would you like to see your art work in the next five years or so? Are there any plans to further your work in gallery market? Where does Sigma find herself in ten years? Despite all of the chaos that’s going on right now, are you planning any big walls for the future?
SIGMA: I am not that kind of person that makes graffiti art for a gallery. I have to say that I neglected graffiti a little bit in the last few years, because I am still studying and have to work a lot. Money is a big problem. I always wanted to be sponsored or get some other support so I could invest more time in my art or graffiti “education”. Maybe there will be some day a lucky chance for me. In the next five years I would like to visit more countries, graffiti jams and paint with new people.
SprayPlanet: Do you have any advice you’d like to give to our younger readers; maybe, something specifically our younger female graffiti artists? What kind of knowledge can you share to others that could make the graffiti path a little easier? Is there anything you’d do differently as you look back?
SIGMA:Nowadays it is very easy to get in touch with the graffiti culture or with the writers. The whole thing has changed a lot. You can easily use the internet to find a graffiti workshop or a legal wall in your area. Believe in your skills and give your best. Be self-critical but don’t give up.
SprayPlanet: Keeping true to our form, question Number 11 is always the last words question—so, is there anything else you’d like to hit on or a final thought you’d like to share with our readers? Also, any shout-outs you’d like to give and where can our readers find your work?
SIGMA:Thank you Kasm for this interview!
Shout outs to my international IGMCrew, my KDSCrew, the RCACrew and the Goettingen squad: 37! If you are interested in my work, visit my Instagram Account: @sigma.kds or the crew accounts: @kooldawg5 and @infamy_gets_made
Sigma’s work can be found on Instagram: @sigma.kds
Interview by: Kasm (On Instagram: @kasm78)